Northland Nature: After the snow meltsAs we start the new month of May, we look at what will be the effects from the record-setting late-season snowstorms of April.
The amazing April of 2013 is over, but not forgotten. Statistics from such a record-setting thirty days will last for years and continue to remind us of the month that gave us more snow (50.8 inches) than had fallen in the previous entire winter of 2011-12 (49.1 inches).
Now as we start the new month of May, we look at what will be the effects from such a huge weather phenomenon.
Any time a big weather event occurs, no matter if it is a tornado, hurricane, flood, blizzard or forest fire, there are always responses to it. These range from the immediate to the long-lasting.
Usually, it is the immediate effects that we take note of. Anyone being forced to evacuate in floods or fires that the Northland has seen in
recent years is not likely to notice the long-term effects.
Frequently, the long-term response can give beneficial results within a community. Perhaps the best example is that of a forest fire. Seeing the charred remains and heat right after or during the flames does not look very good, but when seeing this same region a few years later, we note how it has regenerated.
On a smaller scale, a large maple in my yard rotted and aged needed to be taken down. We missed the flowers and leaf color so much a part of red maples. Woodpeckers that often visited had to find another tree. But with the tree gone, more sunlight penetrated to the ground; our flowers and lawn grew better, and the nearby lilac produced more blossoms than we had ever seen before.
And so it is with the recent snow.
No doubt the drifts, snowpack depth and cold proved too much for some local wildlife, but others will survive just fine. I thought it was interesting to note that despite the snow cover, many migrants still arrived this month, albeit a little late. Robins, hermit thrushes, red-winged blackbirds, grackles, juncos, fox sparrows, tree sparrows, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, phoebes and the first warbler, the yellow-rumped, are all present now. Obviously, their north flight was not determined by temperature, but triggered by the longer days. After shivering a bit and improvising for meals, they seem to be doing well now in this new month.
But the greatest post-snow news that I’ve seen has been with the ponds. Each spring any low spots are quick to turn into small bodies of water as the snow melts. Usually, the greatest snowpack of the year is in March, and this provides ample moisture for this next step. Since they appear in spring and often not lasting more than a couple of months, I like to refer to these sites as vernal ponds. And since they serve as breeding places for frogs; they are also known as frog ponds. (Indeed, many a March snowstorm has helped the frogs of April.)
Last week, I wandered around, mostly on snowshoes, to see the conditions of about ten nearby ponds. Nearly all were still iced over and coated with a thick layer of snow, a very good setting for the coming melt. A few days later, as the melt began, they quickly were transformed from a snowy site to one of water.
Meanwhile, on the nearby forest floor, the frogs are waking.
The Northland is home to seven kinds of frogs and one toad. Five of these spend winter on land under the leaf litter and soil. The trio that begins the songs of spring winters this way. With little protection, they are able to allow parts of their body to freeze, but thaw out in the milder times and quickly go to the nearest ponds. Here they take advantage of the water that might not be present later in the warmer weather to mate and lay eggs.
The males use specific calls to attract a female. Clucking calls of wood frogs, creaking sounds from chorus frogs and namesake peeps of spring peepers are, or will soon be, emanating from the same low spots that held so much of the April snow. The extra snowfall of April will be taken advantage of by frogs and they will have a good production.
Later in May, we’ll see a profusion of spring wildflowers, ferns and trees leafing as they also make use of the snow moisture, but at first it will be frogs in the vernal ponds.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” Contact him c/o email@example.com.